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Aug 7, 2013

Sophie Mirabella panics as indie makes race of Indi

The Victorian seat of Indi is usually considered to be safe for Liberal Sophie Mirabella, but an independent challenger could unseat the Coalition MP.


Alarm bells are ringing inside hard right Liberal warrior Sophie Mirabella’s Indi campaign as a popular local independent prepares to snag a significant proportion of the local vote and vault ahead of Labor in an Andrew Wilkie-style preference triumph.

A panicked email sent from deep inside the Mirabella camp to Liberal volunteers last week, obtained by Crikey, reveals her campaign team is gearing up for a pitched battle against rural independent Cathy McGowan in the northern Victorian seat, currently held by 9% and usually considered safe.

Realistically, McGowan is the most likely challenger to Mirabella’s crown, with Labor, the Greens and Wodonga-based independent Jennifer Podesta all expected to preference her highly. McGowan also has the support of retiring New England independent and hung parliament hero Tony Windsor.

In the email, campaign staffer Adam Wyldeck admits that Mirabella is at grave risk of being overwhelmed:

“Now that the campaign is in full swing, Cathy McGowan’s supporters are flooding every single one of the local papers with vitriolic letters of hatred towards Sophie as well as supportive letters about Cathy McGowan.”

The Wangaratta Chronicle reported this morning Mirabella was planning to spend a “six-figure sum” on the race and would blanket the electorate, which includes the towns of Wodonga, Mansfield and Benalla, with banner advertising. Wyldeck says in the letter:

“In the last 2 weeks, Cathy McGowan’s team has had at least one letter in EVERY PAPER, EVERY DAY. By contrast, Liberal supporters have had a total of no more than 3 letters across the various papers in the electorate. In other words, we are getting severely outflanked and outgunned by a far more active and enthusiastic campaign team.”

He goes on to suggest a number of talking points that Liberal supporters could send to local newspapers, including mocking the concept of a hung parliament and claiming Mirabella is “strong”.

Indi has been held by Mirabella — a former president of the Melbourne University Liberal Club in 1989 before she was dumped by moderate forces linked to Chris Muir halfway through her term — since 2001. She was elected under the name Sophie Panopoulos, and her primary vote has steadily declined over the years from 62.6% in 2004 to 54.4% in 2007 to just 52.6% in 2010 (in 2001 the result was warped by a three-cornered contest with the Nationals).

For McGowan to win, Mirabella’s primary vote would have to slide to well under 50% in the 10-candidate strong field (see below). McGowan, likely to come third, would need to benefit from Greens and minor party preferences to vault her over Labor’s Robyn Walsh, and then use Walsh’s preferences to leapfrog Mirabella. In 2010, Greens candidate Jenny O’Connor achieved 9.4% and Labor 27.2%. McGowan is not allocating preferences.

The Katter’s Australian Party candidate might also round behind McGowan (especially if Tony Windsor gets on the mobile), while Palmer United and Rise Up Australia are wild cards. The S-x Party is also an unknown quantity.

Independent Alan Lappin withdrew from the race last week, and the previous KAP candidate has withdrawn, with a replacement expected to be fingered soon.

A Greens source told Crikey this morning that the party was still investigating McGowan’s bona fides but that on the surface she seemed impressive. She is former president of Women in Agriculture, is a rural consultant and farmer and has regularly travelled to Canberra to advocate for rural communities. She was a research and electorate officer for the former Liberal member for Indi, Ewen Cameron, in the 1980s and has the support of local grassroots group Voice for Indi.

Indi has been in Liberal hands since 1977 and has been controlled by conservative parties for 82 years.

McGowan told Crikey she expected the result to be “close” and there was significant support for her campaign on the ground. “I’ve got a local vision for Indi based on agriculture, tourism and infrastructure, so that’s a huge attraction given the community campaign we’re running.

“The community might have a voice that represents their interests and needs in Canberra.”

In September 2011, Crikey revealed that Mirabella, then 42, was on a collision course with her deceased former lover Colin Howard’s children over his will. Howard, a retired university professor, died at the age of 83 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

The Indi field in possible primary vote order:

  • Sophie Mirabella — Liberal
  • Robyn Walsh — ALP
  • Cathy McGowan — Independent
  • Jenny O’Connor — Greens 
  • Jennifer Podesta — Independent
  • KAP candidate withdrawn, preselecting a replacement soon 
  • Helma Aschenbrenner — S-x Party
  • James Houston — 21st Century Australia Party
  • Bob Murphy — Palmer United
  • Bob Dudley — Rise Up Australia 


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46 thoughts on “Sophie Mirabella panics as indie makes race of Indi

  1. zut alors

    If Mir@bella loses Indi she can be assured of a regular spot on ABC’s The Drum along with other insufferable former Howard government MPs. You know who I mean.

  2. Interrobanging On

    I like the idea of Mira%ella getting up on S*x Party preferences. Not as much as her losing, though.

    I find Crikey’s policy of moderating some words with symbols a bit quaint, but perhaps it has value in discouraging trolls. However, I (and probably zut as well) am very happy to do it with vile swear words like S0phie_Mira%bella.

  3. wilful

    Editor, please strike through the phrase “from deep inside a camp”. It’s meaningless cliche.

    The reason that Mirabella has had a declining vote is because it’s a naturally conservative electorate that has many dyed-in-the-wool (heh, so much for cliche) Lib/Nats. But whenever they meet Mirabella at public functions, her natural awfulness comes through, and less and less vote for her each time as they get to know her better. Consider it the reverse incumbency effect, specific to only a few charmless Members.

  4. SusieQ

    Who would miss her?

  5. Honest Johnny

    When she proudly stood in front of the ‘JULIAR Bob Brown’s Bitch’ and ‘Ditch the Witch’ posters she sent a strong signal to her constituents that, regardless of their politics she is just too awful to vote for. Who would ever want a person like that to represent them?

  6. Rohan

    wilful, to be fair that phrase is totally in keeping with Andrew Crook’s puffed-up tabloid style.

  7. rhonaj

    Mirabella is a GOD AWFUL woman , and an excuse for a politician, who deserves to be kicked out of any party.

  8. Elvis

    One can but dream…

    Importantly, it would also remove another Abbott ally and help Turnbull’s numbers for his inevitable challenge (eventually).

  9. klewso

    Mirabella, to the wall?
    Who’s the biggest smile of all?

  10. Mike Smith

    @Susie: Give me a dozen ripe eggs, and I wouldn’t miss her at all!

  11. Mike Smith

    Oh yeah, is “Rise up Australia” a ‘member’ of “The S_x Party”? EMWTK!

  12. Steven Haby

    Some of the Honourable MP’s performances in Parliament are available on YouTube – the best is being ejected by the Speaker of her own party!

  13. Mark from Melbourne

    How can I sign up to help Cathy’s campaign???

  14. Nick Haines

    Hey Mark,

    If you go to http://www.cathymcgowan.com.au you sign up for updates, volunteer or donate. You can follow on twitter at @indigocathy or facebook.com/cathymcgowanforindi


  15. geomac62

    zut alors
    I think I know the ones you mean . I,ve gone from regular watcher to sometime watcher .

  16. Venise Alstergren

    It’s all too much to hope for. If it should eventuate that Sophie won’t be looking so bloody bella after all!

  17. Venise Alstergren

    ZUT: I know exactly what you mean. It’s got to the stage where I suspect Rupert Murdoch owns a large chunk of O U R??? ABC. I’m being paranoid, I know.

  18. Aneke

    What happened to the case about Colin Howard’s estate and power of attorney?

  19. Bill Hilliger

    Tony Winsor did say quite explicitly to the voters of Indie that they could do a lot better than to vote for Sophie M. Every time I see that low grade human, I want to puke.

  20. Dogs breakfast

    It would be difficult, may I suggest, to find a more graceless human being than Ms Mirabella.

    I could not be happier to see her trounced. It’s almost worth moving to Wodonga just to be able to vote against her, and that is saying something godawful about a person.

    I like the comment about the ‘reverse incumbency’ effect.

    I suspect there is a lot of truth in it. 🙂

    Well done wilful.

  21. Mike Flanagan

    I am unsure as to what happened to his estate or power of attorney, but it appears his spirit may have arisen from his final domicile that Mirrabella ‘graciously’ confined him to, to exact his revenge.
    It is marvelous what you may discover in long forgotten garden and tool sheds.

  22. malcolm.grant1

    I just sent the following email to the editors mentioned in the original email.


    Dear Editors,

    I am sending this email to all of you openly to let you know that the attached email was sent to a mailing list of Liberal party Members in Sophie Mirabella’s seat on Thursday last week.

    The email explains how Party Members can send all of you letters in support of Ms Mirabella.

    I am particularly concerned to note that the email includes instructions on how to (in effect) spam all 6 papers in such a way as to hide the fact that all papers will be sent the same letter. In fact the writer of the email openly tells their reader to do this.

    I am not a member of the Electorate as I live in NSW and I have no particular political affiliation (being a classic swinging voter). I am however committed to honesty in politics (from all sides) and this email containing what is in essence a set of instructions on how to carpet bomb your papers with form letters and spam emails in order to get free newspaper coverage is at best misguided and disingenuous. At worse it may be an incitement to contravene the Spam Act 2003 in instances where the letters are sent to you via email.

    Thank you for your time.


    Malcolm Grant

  23. Bo Gainsbourg

    Cathy looks good, what is her position on Climate Change Nick Haines?

  24. Honest Johnny

    I wonder if the Colin Howard and Sophie story has had a run in the Wangaratta Chronicle?

  25. PaulM

    Much as many people clearly dislike Ms Mirabella, this story is a bit of a beat up. Maybe the Liberals are a bit worried, but there isn’t the sort of backlash against the mainstream conservtive party that saw Windsor and Oakeshott leave the Nats and beat the Party candidate.

    I’m more than happy to be proved wrong, but 35 years of observing Australian politics tells me that Ms Mirabella will be back in Canberra, more than happy to swear allegiance to the Queen.

  26. Rubio Diego

    Why is it that just the mere mention of Sophie Mirabella’s name brings out the worst in even the most mild mannered person ?
    Is it that she never realizes how outrageous her comments come across to most people?

  27. Had Enough

    Aneke what do you mean by “It is marvelous what you may discover in long forgotten garden and tool sheds.” Sounds like you know something interesting.

  28. Interrobanging On


    Sadly, you are likely right. However, shouldn’t decent dyed in the wool Liberals just twinge a little at her on the team?

    Or have things really degenerated to the state of aggressive ‘anything and anyone goes’ that is so clearly expressed by the Liberal faithful on ABC and Murdoch fora?

    I was in Lyne (Oakeshott) and think that the voters of Indi would be mad not to elect a smart person with a good local grounding who is so decent in their concerns as McGowan seems to be, rather than a party hack, even if it wasn’t SM.

    By the way, Oakeshott left the National Party at State level. He was never a National at Federal level, but was elected twice as an Independent. The first a by-election, the second a romp.

    He was, admittedly helped by local anger at Vaile cutting and running after the 2007 election (including into a CSG job alien to his constituency in typical Nat style). Perhaps Vaile’s abject failure on the idiotic FTA with the USA didn’t help either.

  29. FelineCyclist

    I don’t know why Andrew says the S-x Party is an unknown quantity. Based on their performance in the Melbourne by-election, they are, at least, supportive of the ALP and, at worst, a party whose sole purposes are to funnel preferences to the ALP and attack the Greens.

  30. bluey50

    I have long thought that SM is an appallingly nasty piece of work.

    To see so many Crikey readers are of a similar stripe, well … it’s a bit like coming home isn’t it?

  31. klewso

    She’s a slogan life-support system.

  32. malcolm.grant1

    I received a response to my email this morning from one of the editors;

    “Thanks for bringing this to our attention. We have indeed been receiving a lot of letters from people up Wodonga way and around about – obviously and firmly down the party line. I was wondering how they even knew about our little paper (and why our other little paper is being ignored). I guess this explains it!

    Can I ask how you came across it?

    Thanks again. If there’s one thing we love its a whistle-blower!”

    I credited Crikey (of course).

    Let’s hope the other five editors follow suit.

  33. morphy richards toaster

    Oh how a Mirabella defeat would warm my heart. I’ll be nominating Tony Windsor for Australian of the Year if McGowan wins.

  34. wilful

    I just remembered a conversation I had once with the local State National Member that covered part of Indi. Ken, Ken… can’t remember his surname. He could not stand the woman, found her terribly rude, no courtesy at all, completely out of touch, completely failed to represent her constituents.

  35. morphy richards toaster

    A carpet bagger with neither a connection to the seat, nor any inclination to build one, is the perfect target for an independent. This horrible, money-grubbing, family-wrecking, backwards looking woman has got to go.

  36. malcolm.grant1

    Interestingly enough I received a reply to my email from Anthony Morrow at the Alexandra Eildon Marysville Standard and this story has been run in the Border Mail.



    Of all the things that may eventuate in the coming Federal Election for Mirabella to lose would be especially sweet. Tony Windsor’s service to our nation and his esteemed character are on record. For him to publicly denigrate Mirabella speaks volumes. TO actually campaign actively against her goes to the depth of his feelings. Good luck to all the other candidates in Indi. Any of them would surpass her asleep. GOLDA Toowoomba

  38. geomac62

    Imagine if Sophie was Labor and Newscorp did a Thomson on her regarding the Howard siblings and money gained . Good luck to the candidates in Indi bar one and no guesses for which one I refer to .

  39. morphy richards toaster

    malcolm.grant1 – it seems the Guardian’s also running with the article. Also, the poll in the Border Mail had 95% of people voting that Sophie had something to worry about. Good work! 🙂

  40. malcolm.grant1

    I can only do what I can.

    If only we could find something similar on whiny Pyne(y)

  41. Had Enough

    Sophie never responded, contested or took action against the Howard article http://www.theage.com.au/national/power-love-and-money-20110922-1knb7.html so it would be fair to think that the article was true and undoubtedly only the tip of the iceberg.

  42. morphy richards toaster

    Had Enough – perhaps the Indi news outlets ought to revisit the story?

  43. Interrobanging On

    The signatory of the letter is the self same $906 dollar taxi fare man Adam Wyldeck. That is a SINGLE taxi fare.

  44. Honest Johnny

    We should also remember that Sophie was one of only a handful of politicians who boycotted the apology to the Stolen Generation back in 2008. At the time she denied the existence of a stolen generation. Classy.

  45. Had Enough

    The interesting thing about icebergs is that is that there is so much more of it under the surface. Interesting thing about the Titanic is that it was supposed to be invincible!

  46. A Crane

    wilful@34: you mean Ken Jasper?

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